Let’s start Friday off with a FREE ebook: Kaybree versus the Angels from Harrison Paul.
Kaybree has grown up hearing stories of the Angels, mythical beings who used to defend Nordgard from the creatures of the forest. After leaving mankind without guidance for centuries, they returned fifteen years ago, leaving a fiery swath of destruction.
When Kaybree is called to the outpost by the forest, home to her mother’s mysterious Vormund Order, she stumbles into the latest Angel attack. Soon she learns that she has the unique power to fight them: the ability to transform into a radiant being of fire and lightning.
As she begins to receive visions from Angelic messengers, she delves deeper into her mother’s organization. She starts to wonder: why would Angels, holy messengers of God, attack people? Every answer she finds only sparks more questions. Because Vormund holds a deadly secret—one that could change Nordgard and the human race forever.
If the bards could be believed, Kant Vakt was a magical place, the site of my mother’s great battle with the Angels, where gallant warriors wielded the ancient relics in mankind’s defense. But bards’ tales had a reputation of being slippery, told with a wink and a nod, stretching the truth to impress girls with a clever song.
When I first arrived at the city, I had the haunting feeling that this time, the bards were right.
I stood on the deck of the ship as the Sea Pilgrim approached the docks of Kant Vakt. Icy wind whipped at my cloak and dress, making my scarf to flap in the breeze. I leaned on the railing, gazing out at my mother’s city. The Sydstrom Channel ran alongside the main road, and dozens of arched stone bridges connected the two sides. Oarsmen rowed their longships through the channel, carrying messages and cargo from one end of the city to the other.
The smells of sea brine and pine mingled in the air with the scents of chimney smoke and roasting meat. A carriage drawn by two rangir with long antlers rolled along the cobblestone street, but the crowd of people was sparse. Having come from the capital, I’d expected more of a welcoming party. I looked over at the far end of the city, toward the dense foliage of the forest. The thick cluster of Nordgren spruces was laden with snow, and blocked my view of the world beyond, where unseen horrors could be lurking.
The border wall came into view, or what was left of it. High stone watchtowers with crownlike tops dotted the borders by the forest. The ruins of the city walls remained where they stood, warped stone and eroded fragments that covered the expanse between towers. This was the Kant Vakt of the stories. Fifteen years ago, the walls had been burned away in a brilliant flash of white fire, pieces of stone exploding and raining down on the city. I shuddered thinking about it. The walls had never been rebuilt—probably because the Angels could just destroy them again if they wanted to.
I remembered my mother’s letter. I clutched the parchment close, to keep the ink from smearing. Not that it would have mattered. I’d read the letter enough times to recite it in my sleep. My mother had never sent a letter directly to me, penned in her scribe’s own hand, so I had to make sure I wasn’t reading it wrong. It was a summons to Kant Vakt.
“In Nordgard, Kaybree, everyone works,” my mother had told me each time she’d come to visit. “Peasants labor in the fields. Artisans craft in their workshops. Even kings and princes are expected to undergo rigorous schooling in their youth, followed by an approved apprenticeship. Idleness is not permitted, and all must learn their place. Mine is to defend our borders. Yours is to study at this sagekeep.”
Yet after sending me from the longship ports of Arleon to the frigid tundra of Nordgren to the eastern border of Holmgarde, she had never allowed me to even set foot in her city. Sometimes her excuse was my health, since I had a rare disease and needed special blood treatments weekly. Other times she would say that it was too much of a risk to travel to Kant Vakt, because I might get caught in the next attack. So I hadn’t asked for a few years, and had grown content to let her visit when she found the chance.
What had changed now?
I disembarked from the ship, stepping out onto wooden docks that seemed to shift as I walked. Maybe my sense of balance was still thrown off by the sea voyage. I looked around at the people, but didn’t recognize anyone. My mother’s letter had told me she’d send her assistant to find me, but no one came forward to introduce themselves.
Of course, I thought. The ship had arrived late, and she probably hadn’t bothered to track its progress. I could have a message sent, but knowing her, something of vital importance to defending Nordgard would take precedence. I would have to go straight to her tower at the sagekeep, and let the porters bring my chests of clothes and other belongings up later.
I waved to an oarsman on the channel and stepped into his longship. Its wooden frame was peaked on the ends, and seemed to glide on the water like a swan. It only had six benches for rowing, and was likely bought from a fisherman to use on the channel.
“Where to?” he asked. He wore a heavy gray cloak and had arms of corded muscle. Another bench was occupied by a younger man, his hands tight on the oars.
“The sagekeep,” I said, handing him a few coins. Without a word, he took the coins and began rowing. We passed along the main road, where rangir trotted along with nobles’ carriages in tow. Other longships wove around us in the water, more agile and practical in the city than the newer ships with their towering masts and large cargo holds. The ride took less time than I’d expected, and before I knew it, I was stepping onto the steep slope and toward the sagekeep.
I reached the outer courtyard and gazed up at the soaring figure. The sagekeep of Kant Vakt was legendary. Since it had nearly been demolished by the attack of fifteen years ago, the sages had commanded that we build it up again, a fortress that the creatures of the forest would never overthrow. My mother said it was the Angels who destroyed the city, but the sages still said the dark denizens of the forest were responsible. Now that I was here, I could find out for myself.
Two towers flanked the vaulted keep. Arched black spires reached into the skies, their tops lost in the gray clouds, and the entire southern wall was covered in intricate designs. A great circular window was placed at the top of the keep, giving it the appearance of an eye watching over the city. A statue of Giles the Philosopher, the first of the sages, stood at the top, his granite face turned south toward the forest.
I passed a pair of armored guards through the double doors of the sagekeep, entering the high-ceilinged entrance chamber. It opened into a hall that stretched as far as I could see, and voices and footsteps echoed off of its ceiling like the inside of an underground cavern. This was my mother’s fortress, where she’d earned the warrior’s surname of Staalvoss, or “steel fox.”
Also check out the second and third books of the series: My Very Own Witch Hunter and Girl of Fire and Lightning. The latest versions of all three books are available on Amazon, and soon will be available on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and Apple as well. Book 1 is free on all sites, and Books 2 and 3 are $2.99. Book 4 (Steel Fox) will be released this summer.